|Pic: Fundacio Randa LL|
Do a Google search (or to my preference, a much more private search on DuckDuckGo.com) for Lluís Maria Xirinacs i Damians in English and you’ll find a decent but short Wikipedia page on him and precious little else. None of his books have ever been translated into English either.
So, why bother knowing anything about this man? Why should history remember him? Because Xirinacs led a fascinating, varied and ultimately controversial life. A truly unique life.
Seemingly he is best known in Catalonia for being nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. This was mainly due to his 12 hours a day, solitary, standing, human rights protests outside the Modelo prison in Barcelona during the last decade of Franco’s dictatorship. There, Xirinacs was regularly arrested after being beaten by the police or right wing thugs.
I spoke to a good friend of mine, one of his former philosophy students. He gave me personal insights I didn’t expect. This is what he told me:
“Xirinacs was an intellectual academic, a really good teacher. He’d quit being a priest. We’d have big arguments together about Nietzche or Socrates, getting very heated with each other. Two Latins just working it out, I suppose.
During his life Xirinacs was a big supporter of independence for Catalonia but plenty of people here had doubts about him too. He was sentenced to prison near the end of his life for making public statements in favour of ETA, the terrorist group from the Basque country. He gave a speech at that square where they do the annual national memorial at the eternal flame and he basically said that he didn’t agree with any kind of torture but that he was an enemy of the Spanish state and a friend of ETA because their soldiers have to live like secretive rats, in hiding with no girlfriends or children and that they give public warnings before they blow up areas where ordinary people are.
Of course, that contradicted the pacifist views he’d had all his life and in his teaching of Gandhi-style non-violence strategies.
When Xirinacs was an older man, in his seventies, he said to a small group of his other students, “One day you’ll find my body in the forest.” We didn’t know if it was a hint that he was going to commit suicide or whether he thought he was going to be seized and taken out there to be shot.
The official autopsy [in 2007] found that he died from natural causes. I accept that because they discovered a note on his desk bitterly criticising Catalan politicians and previously he’d talked to us about Eastern philosophies of wasting away in more of a long, peaceful meditation out in nature.
The funeral at Santa Maria del Mar cathedral was something else too. The head monk from Montserrat, he stood up and said, “Xirinacs was a great model for everyone; a fine example of what we can be in life…but not in death. At that moment, everyone in the church and outside too, started clapping, applauding really loudly. The crowd were drowning him out and also applauding Xirinacs. Maybe. Probably.
After a minute, the Abbott tried to calm the crowd but they just went on clapping; five minutes, ten minutes; they finally stopped at twenty minutes. That noise was their protest in favour of a great protester.”
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2020.]